The lowdown on the ''Terminator Salvation'' star's tantrum, what his peers are saying about it, and how this may affect his career

By Josh Rottenberg
February 06, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

Actors can be temperamental, moody, and even insufferable divas. Especially the really good ones. But when you’re carrying two of Hollywood’s most valuable franchises on your shoulders, you might want to make sure the microphones are off before you blow up on the set.

As nearly everyone on earth with an Internet connection now knows, Christian Bale has set a spectacular new standard for F-bomb-laced meltdowns. Last week, posted an audio clip of a blistering rant that took place on the set of Terminator Salvation in July 2008. In the nearly four-minute tirade, Bale screams at director of photography Shane Hurlbut, who had apparently distracted the actor by walking around during a take. ”What the f— is it with you?” Bale snaps. ”What don’t you f—ing understand? Give me a f—ing answer!”

According to a source close to the production, the blowup occurred during ”a bad period” for Bale, who was promoting The Dark Knight and filming his role as John Connor in Terminator. In that same month, Bale spent four hours in a London jail after being arrested for an alleged verbal assault against his mother and sister (the charges were dropped). As for this tiff, says the source, ”It was one day. They quickly mended things.” Bale, Hurlbut, and Terminator director McG declined to comment for this story, but director John Stockwell, who has worked with Hurlbut in the past, spoke highly of his professionalism: ”Shane couldn’t be a more decent, talented guy. The only thing bad I can say about him is that he never sits down. He’s kind of hyperactive.”

Of course, the news that someone in Hollywood threw a tantrum is not earth-shattering. Any number of stars have been caught behaving badly (see below), and for each of those there are surely dozens of incidents that never become public. Indeed, some express a measure of sympathy for Bale. Asked about the tape at the premiere of his movie He’s Just Not That Into You, director Ken Kwapis says, ”It’s an occupational hazard. When you’re so passionate and…things don’t play out how you imagined, occasionally it will get the best of you. Who hasn’t yelled at someone and taken it too far? It’s just that for most people it is not posted on the Internet for everyone to dissect and judge.”

Others, however, say that Bale’s lashing was so venomous, it will be hard for him to live down. Says one producer, ”It may hurt Bale’s career if people decide, ‘You know, I don’t like him so much anymore.’ Call it the Russell Crowe effect.” (Crowe hurled a phone at a hotel employee in 2005.) A high-ranking studio exec says Bale will now be ”tagged as a guy with an anger-management problem,” but wryly shrugs off the notion of serious career damage: ”We work with d—s all the time.” (In a statement, Warner Bros. says: ”We have enjoyed a very productive professional relationship with Mr. Bale through the making of this film.”)

Bale’s reputation aside, the most lasting effect may be that actors will be more careful about their on-set behavior. Two years ago, following the leak of a video of director David O. Russell pitching a fit on the set of I ? Huckabees, George Clooney told EW, ”The Internet is a free-for-all. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’ll make people behave on sets.” At the very least, one imagines that the next time someone inadvertently strolls into Bale’s eye line, he might just smile and politely ask them to move. — With additional reporting by Carrie Bell, Clark Collis, Sean Smith, Nicole Sperling, and Benjamin Svetkey

Pop Quiz: Celebrity Meltdowns!
Christian Bale’s blistering rant is hardly the first star screed to go viral. See if you can match the famous face with a choice excerpt from his or her tirade — and if you need help, all the tantrums are on YouTube.

A) Faye Dunaway
B) Patti LuPone
C) Bill O’Reilly
D) Alec Baldwin
E) Michael Richards
F) Lily Tomlin

1 ”Stop taking pictures — right now! You heard the announcement! How dare you! Who do you think you are?!? Get them out! I won’t continue if they’re taking pictures!”
2 ”Shut up! Fifty years ago we had you upside down with a f—ing fork up your ass…. Throw his ass out, he’s a n—er! He’s a n—er! He’s a n—er! A n—er! Look, there’s a n—er!”
3 ”I’m not gonna approve it! I’m really upset now…. I’ve tried to thread through that stupid interview with a man that I will not even waste my time discussing…. So let’s not even go there! It’s very upsetting to me.”
4 ”Why don’t you f— your whole movie? ‘Cause that’s what you’re doing…. That’s right, f— you, too! I’ll break the f—ing set apart, I don’t even give a f—! Oh, shut up! You shut the f— up, too!”
5 ”It’s not right on the TelePrompTer…. I can’t read it! There’s no words on it! There’s no word there!… I can’t do it! We’ll do it live! We’ll do it live! F— it! Do it live! I’ll write it, and we’ll do it live! F—in’ thing sucks!”
6 ”You have insulted me for the last time…. I’m gonna let you know just how I feel about what a rude little pig you really are. You are a rude, thoughtless little pig, okay?”

ANSWERS: 1, B; 2, E; 3, A; 4, F; 5, C; 6, D